Killing a Second Chicken won't Intimidate the Monkey
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 23, 2009
Three KMT legislators have had their electoral victories nullified as a result of vote-buying. Two KMT Central Standing Committee Members have had their status as Central Standing Committee Members nullified as a result of vote-buying. The legal system and the party disciplinary system show that the practice of vote-buying within the KMT has yet to be eradicated.
The KMT Central Standing Committee was a "special occupation." It was special because once one was made a Central Standing Committee Member, one occupied a position at the center of power. Being granted the title was the equivalent of being handed the keys to power. It was a guarantee of official advancement. Now however, it is "special" in an entirely different sense. Although being elected to the Central Standing Committee nominally places one at the center of power, one has in fact merely been placed at the fringes of power. One is unable to participate in decision-making on any policies whatsoever. People with real power have gradually abandoned their quest to become Central Standing Committee Members. Central Standing Committee membership is a mere figurehead position.
Central Standing Committee Members no longer wield real power. But some within the KMT are still falling over each other in their quest to become members. More than a few retired veteran politicians, as well as ordinary civilians who have never tasted real political power, have enthusiastically plunged into this power game in which no real power is to be had. They have won election to a Central Standing Committee that represents nothing and wields no power. It is nothing more than a public mockery, a blot on the history of the KMT. But because so many of its members were elected by hook or by crook, this particular Central Standing Committee election is especially controversial.
The KMT culture of vote-buying is of course nothing new. During past Central Standing Committee elections candidates began giving out campaign gifts from Day One. These gifts included everything from vintage wines to gold pens and gold watches. This time the two candidates whose elections were nullified merely gave out a few salted fish and a few bottles of red wine. Compared to previous candidates they were pikers. Also, candidates who gave out smaller gifts were subjected to harsher party discipline than those who gave out more extravagant gifts. Candidates who bought votes for a few hundred dollars lost their seats on the Central Standing Committee. This led to a backlash by those disciplined. They demanded to know why those who gave out salted fish were being disciplined, while those who gave out more expensive gifts such as orchids were spared. Besides, they said, giving gifts is normal human behavior. It is an historical custom. One gives gifts on holidays, and every time the party holds a party congress, it holds an election. Since one is holding an election, one must campaign. Since one must campaign, how can one not give gifts?
But the candidates who are lashing back have forgotten something. Why must one give gifts if one is campaigning for the Central Standing Committee? If one doesn't give gifts, does that mean one cannot get elected? If one cannot get elected, so what? Central Standing Committee Members are elected annually. Each week they hold only one meeting. They cannot participate in government decision-making. Nor can they intervene in the legislative or budgetary processes. How many political chips is a name card reading "KMT Central Standing Committee Member" worth? Will executive branch agencies put any stock in it? Will it enhance one's prestige as one shuttles back and forth between Taiwan and the Mainland? Perhaps one has some really great suggestions on how to govern the nation. Perhaps one must meet with the President in his capacity as party chairman every week so that one can save the party and the nation. Otherwise, these candidates who argue that "giving gifts is not a crime," must ask themselves why must candidates give gifts? Moreover, if one feels compelled to give gifts during party elections, can one say no to vote-buying when running for public office? Aren't the three candidates whose elections were nullified a perfect example?
If the party is crooked, then the government will be crooked. The first step in correcting the political atmosphere in the ruling administration, is to correct the political atmosphere in the ruling party. The ruling party controls the nation's resources. If ruling party members become accustomed to giving gifts, what won't they become accustomed to doing? Ma Ying-jeou has long abhorred vote-buying. He was sacked when he was Minister of Justice precisely because he was too diligent about investigating vote-buying. When he first became Kuomintang chairman, he warned party members that must not accept even souvenir mugs. Today, Central Standing Committee vote-buying offers proof positive that initial efforts at imposing party discipline have yet to improve the situtation. In order to change the party's political character and reverse the political winds, this is the right first step for Ma to take as party chairman.
Some have criticized Ma's handling of the affair as "overkill," "making a mountain out of a molehill," or even "punishing minor offenders but not major offenders." But the culture of vote-buying is deep-rooted. One has to make a mountain out of a molehill. One has to engage in overkill. Besides, during past attempts to intimidate potential offenders, killing one chicken successfully intimidated 100 monkeys. But today's monkeys are bolder. Killing one or two chickens is no longer enough to deter even one monkey, let alone hundreds of such monkeys. Today one must continue killing chickens until the monkeys are eventually intimidated.
If the KMT cannot rid itself of the monkey on its back known as vote-buying, then reformers will never rally behind the KMT. The KMT will remain forever trapped in the vicious cycle of its "historic role." If Ma Ying-jeou truly wants reform, he must act boldly. However many engage in vote-buying, then however many must be punished. Even if it means the overthrow of the Central Standing Committee. Only this way can the KMT transform itself. We look forward to seeing Ma Ying-jeou lob the heads off more evil monkeys.
2009.10.23 03:38 am